The email was not entirely unexpected. It arrived late in the afternoon as I was clicking off my desk lamp and considering whether to cook or get a Wegmans Meal 2GO for dinner. I knew this day was coming. I’d participated in many meetings about it. But the specific contents of the message were unknown, so I settled in to give it a thorough read.
Returning to our old lives is hard
As my eyes scanned the words on the screen, my heart filled with something I had a hard time identifying. Was it Anxiety? Sadness? Dread? I always knew we’d be returning to the office eventually, so that was not a surprise. The timing for the transition seemed reasonable and I actually thought I was ready.
Until I wasn’t.
Later, that same night, the feeling returned. This time it was triggered by photos and videos of graduating high school seniors in my social media feed. Clad in their caps and gowns, they paraded outside their elementary schools in a tradition known as “Back to the Future Day.”
My son didn’t get to experience a normal graduation
My Class of 2020 senior never got to make this memory. He didn’t get to say good bye to his high school teachers, or attend a senior prom, or have a class banquet. His graduation was a masked walk through a deserted parking lot on a sweltering afternoon in late July. There was no one around to celebrate with but his parents.
When I look back on the past many months, I see a period of time infinitely suspended between reality and opportunity. This time last year, we didn’t know if there was going to be a graduation at all. We wondered if my oldest son would go away to college as planned.
For my family, the summer of 2020 will be remembered as the summer of wondering and waiting—like a train firmly stalled at the station. All of us were completely off our life schedules. We felt unsure, unlucky, unmotivated…un-everything.
The transition back to life is almost too fast
Now we are at a point in the pandemic when the train is leaving the station so damn fast, I feel like I’ve got whiplash. Instead of a slow and steady pull away, life feels like a runaway train and I’m barely hanging on by my fingernails.
There are proms, and parties, and sleepovers, and baseball tournaments, and family reunions, and vacations, and weddings, and countless postponed event invitations, and yes, plans to return to the office.
I was doing a mental preview of my weekend ahead when it finally hit me. Maybe what I was actually feeling was not sadness or dread, but rather a new and different kind of FOMO—Fear I Missed an Opportunity.
I’m really wondering whether I used all my time stalled at the station to the best of my ability. Had I known how long we’d be here—in the suspended state between reality and opportunity—I would have planned better. There’d be more reading and less time spent watching “Tiger King.”
I would have finished a knitting project instead of starting ten different ones and giving up. Every. Single. Time. I could have organized years of family photos and made dozens of photo books in 15 months. Instead, I made just one. I could have painted the basement and cleaned out more closets. I should have hand written letters on beautiful stationery instead of sending all those late-night group texts.
Now that I see pandemic time evaporating so very quickly, I can’t help but feel I did not fully seize the opportunity before me. My brain is telling me, “Wait, you’re not ready. There is still so much you wanted to do!”
My rational self knows this is absolutely ridiculous. I did plenty during the pandemic. I supported the emotional needs of my family. I made lots of pizzas, craft cocktails, and pancakes. I kept a journal filled with family moments big and small. I took ski lessons. And I restarted a podcast for moms struggling to do everything from managing remote school to making masks from worn out T-shirts.
The return to life, a long time in the making, feels too sudden
As happy as I am to be fully vaccinated and throwing our family masks into the summer breeze, it all feels surprisingly sudden. No one is gathering at the table for dinner anymore. My car no longer sits in the driveway because my younger teen is always driving it. No one is asking me to watch Netflix or play cards.
My husband, who retired from his corporate job months ago, is now doing landscaping from sun up to sundown. I suddenly find myself missing the sound of teens playing XBox in the basement.
I would never have guessed that after all this time I’d feel this way. But I do know this much is true. Those family photo books? Not going to happen now. Because the announcement coming from the universe is loud and clear, “Now boarding on Track 21. Life. You don’t want to miss it.”
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